ST PAUL — A crisp autumn breeze carried the earthy scent of sage and the steady beat of a drum circle through the air as hundreds of people of all ages sang and danced in St. Paul's Indian Mounds Park to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day.
Above them, the sun warmed the cool October air and four eagles flew. Below them, six mounds of burial sites sacred to the Dakota people overlooked the changing leaves that lined the bluffs of the Mississippi River.
The morning began at St. Paul's American Indian Magnet School, where students began a mile-long march to Indian Mounds Park, carrying hand-painted banners that read, "We are still here." On their heads, many wore paper crowns that they colored in class, which said, "I am still here."
The second Monday in October has been recognized federally as Christopher Columbus Day since 1937, paying tribute to the Americas' first European colonizer. But in recent years, localities and states have opted to instead take the day to celebrate indigenous peoples.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, of the White Earth Nation, said Monday that Indigenous Peoples Day "is not about the erasure of another holiday," but is "simply saying and acknowledging that we are still here."
"We are here because of the strength and we are here because of the resiliency of our ancestors," Flanagan told the crowd. "Every single day when we get up, when we wake up in the morning and we step into the world as our sole, beautiful indigenous selves, that in of itself is an act of resilience. And that is what it means to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day."
Minnesota first joined the ranks of states celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in 2016, when then-Gov. Mark Dayton issued the first statewide proclamation of the holiday. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz followed suit this year, proclaiming that "the Indigenous People who resided on this land prior to the arrival of European settlers have experienced a history of broken promises, violence, deprivation, and disease.
"This is a history that we must reconcile as we seek to build a brighter future for all Minnesotans, while striving to maintain strong government-to-government relationships and strengthen tribal sovereignty," reads the proclamation.
Despite Minnesota governors proclaiming it annually, Indigenous People's Day is not an official state holiday. The second Monday in October technically remains Columbus Day. For that to change, Walz told press Monday, Oct. 14, the Legislature would have to make a statutory change — a move he said he encourages.
The achievement gaps between Native and white residents of Minnesota, Walz continued, are "unconscionable," starting with education, then feeding into housing and economic opportunity and the state's criminal justice system. But the state reconciling with history could be a first step to closing those gaps today, he said.
Flanagan added, "So many of the issues I think that we face in our community, those disparities, are rooted in the fact that people simply don't know the history, that Native American people are still here. (...) So much of that has to do with us just telling the truth."
Dancers wearing Danzantes Mexicas regalia led this morning’s mile-long #IndigenousPeopleDay march from St. Paul’s American Indian Magnet School to Indian Mounds Park, the location of six burial grounds sacred to the Dakota people overlooking the Mississippi River. pic.twitter.com/LJQz2Q7NE3
Dancers wearing Danzantes Mexicas regalia led this morning’s mile-long #IndigenousPeopleDay march from St. Paul’s American Indian Magnet School to Indian Mounds Park, the location of six burial grounds sacred to the Dakota people overlooking the Mississippi River. pic.twitter.com/LJQz2Q7NE3— Sarah Mearhoff (@sarah_mearhoff) October 14, 2019